News & Opinions
The latest news and insights from Hanley Wood’s outspoken experts and key thought-leaders throughout the residential and commercial design and construction industry.
A Sustainable City With Cars and Low-Density Homes? It’s Possible
Eric Jaffe / The Atlantic Cities / June 28, 2013
The core problem of creating sustainable cities is as well-known as it is tricky. On the one hand, everyone who’s thoughtful about urban sustainability admits the environmental, economic, and social problems of sprawl and auto-dependency. On the other hand, everyone who’s realistic about the situation must admit that people are crazy about their cars and pretty keen on low-density, single-family homes, too.
Most of the modern attempts to reconcile this problem, at least in U.S. metropolitan areas, create more problems of their own. Smart growth initiatives to increase densification, reduce car use are often met with vehement objections — some irrational, some genuine — on the grounds of personal choice. Often these efforts are simply ignored by local government. Meanwhile, promoting livability through public transit can run into financial and political hurdles too tall to overcome.
For these reasons and others, Mark Delucchi and Kenneth S. Kurani of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis aren’t so sure we’re going about these solutions the right way. They believe that car ownership is so desirable that any effort to address sustainability must embrace it, rather than defy it. They also believe that what’s so pernicious about modern sprawl is not the cars themselves, per se, but their “high kinetic energy” — in simple terms, their size and speed.
So, in a fascinating-if-fantastical paper set for publication in the Journal of Urban Planning and Development, Delucchi and Kurani propose a radical concept that would let people have their suburbs and cars and their sustainable cities, too.
The key to meeting this challenge, they argue, is creating brand new communities around a “dual roadway system.” There would be one “heavy” road network connecting cities that accommodates conventional cars. And there would be another “light” road network, reserved for low-mass low-speed alternatives for local travel. As they put it:
Much that makes our present systems of automobility unsustainable is attributable ultimately to the high kinetic energy and ubiquity of fast, heavy, motor vehicles. The challenge is to find a way to dramatically lower the kinetic energy of personal travel while sustaining the advantages of personal, self-directed mobility and access to both urban and suburban living. We believe that one way to accomplish these is to create two autonomous and universally accessible travel networks: one for fast-heavy vehicles, the other for low-speed, low-mass, transportation modes, including new designs of motorized vehicles.